‘The Darkest Minds’ Movie Talk #12: Staying True to the Heart of the Story

Every Monday and Friday we’re bringing you The Darkest Minds content leading up to the film’s Aug. 3 release.

Why do people care about stories? Why are people so passionate about books or television or movies? What makes people care? What ignites that passionate flame within?
The single most important component of any story is the fictional people that inhabit the world you’re building and the story you’re telling. It’s what’s ultimately going to make or break a story. If your audience doesn’t care about these characters, it’s over before it’s ever truly begun.
Movies and television shows can fall victim to a little something called favoring action over characters, which usually happens in heavy-action stories. I’ve seen it plenty of times on superhero television shows where the writers can completely miss an opportunity to use situations to grow a character. Characters should direct your storylines. You shouldn’t force your characters to adapt to storylines in a way that changes who they are in how they respond to certain situations.
But it’s also important – especially in action-heavy stories – to establish your characters as individuals and give the audience a reason to care. Because even if you’re the most badass superhero to ever walk the planet, if I don’t care about the person underneath that mask, I’m not going to give a damn about what happens when he/she is wearing that mask.
The great thing about The Darkest Minds film is that it already has a solid character-focused narrative to derive from in Alexandra Bracken’s novels. At its core, The Darkest Minds is about Ruby, Liam, Chubs, and Zu and how they respond to the world around them.
“This story is, more than anything else, a road trip movie with three teenagers and a little girl,” Amandla Stenberg, who plays Ruby, told us on set last year.


Enough cannot be said about the emotional component of a story. It all goes back to giving a damn or not. As a writer, you need to hook your audience and get them invested. This is usually accomplished through creating complex characters that are flawed, yet redeemable; relatable, yet different; challenged, yet determined.
The Darkest Minds thrives with its quartet of characters that are each incredibly unique, complex, and are bonded through shared experiences that make them family.
“It’s focused around a group of young kids just trying to navigate this crazy world we’re in, but also just kids,” Harris Dickinson, who plays Liam, told us on set last year. “We just see their awkward moments and see their moments of just compete guard is down. But we also see them go through sense of strength and grow as young people.”
And the core group of Ruby, Liam, Chubs, and Zu are no doubt the heart and soul of this story. That was evident in Bracken’s books. And in order for the film to be considered faithful and a success, it must be evident there, as well. But if the author herself can get chills just watching filming, that’s a good indication that that dynamic is on display.
“When (Stenberg, Dickinson, Skylan Brooks, and Miya Cech) were doing some reshoots in California on the soundstage, on the Fox lot, and (they) were in the van and it was just like the interplay of the four of (them) acting together,” Bracken told us. “I was like those are the kids. That’s them.”
While The Darkest Minds is an incredibly important story about embracing your differences, voices working together to achieve change, and the threat of what fear instilled can cause – something happening in our country right now – it’s also about these kids that are navigating this world. That emotion was what attracted director Jennifer Yuh Nelson to the project.
“The thing that made me love this script so much was because there was a great emotional core,” she told us on set. “A lot of scripts you read they’re all plot or something, which is something I love anyway. But (The Darkest Minds) had such an emotional core. My goal is always to find that core so that everything in the movie goes to that emotional reason that exists. That script – even early – had that.”

Nelson recognized that those characters and those dynamics – that emotional core – is what was going to be her focal point. Because once you have your focus, which in this case is those characters, you can just build everything else around it.
“I think that’s why there’s so many fans of the book,” Nelson continued, “because the emotion is so strong, the relationships are so strong, the reason why you’re following this girl through the journey is so strong that it helped me understand what this movie is all about.”
And when your director understands the story as well as she does, that can only mean the adaptation will benefit from the simple matter of letting these characters – who are the heart of the story – lead the way.

The Darkest Minds hits theaters on Friday, Aug. 3.

Stay tuned to Fangirlish every Monday and Friday for more The Darkest Minds Movie Talk leading up to the film’s release.

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